Among the thousands of visitors to the Vatican in January was one who, it is fair to say, was more focused on more earthly matters than many.
Mark Cutifani was on a mining-related mission ahead of his official start on Wednesday as chief executive of resource giant Anglo American.
He was meeting Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Ghanaian recently tipped as “Africa’s best hope for Pope”, for pointers on how to deal better with the various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) lobbying for local communities.
“What we wanted to do was listen to Cardinal Turkson’s view and what we were missing as miners,” Mr Cutifani said. “I said to him, ‘we don’t know how to engage those NGOs, can you help us understand where we might start the conversation… What we’re coming here to do is to listen and try to understand how we can engage in a different conversation as an industry’.”
If his trip to the Holy See may have smacked of desperate measures, well, these are desperate times. At FTSE 100 miner Anglo, Mr Cutifani faces the immediate and perilous task of overseeing the company’s plans to restructure its operations in the explosive South African mining belt.
Anglo is heavily exposed. At a function in Mr Cutifani’s honour, South African minerals minister Susan Shabangu told the mining boss: “Mark, this Anglo American plc, it’s ours. It’s a South African company.”
Hired from Johannesburg-based AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s third biggest gold producer – in no small part because of his experience in navigating South African labour relations – Mr Cutifani will find his stakeholder engagement skills quickly put to the test.
Anglo’s subsidiary Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) was supposed to finish its consultation process on a planned 14,000 job cuts in South Africa at the end of last month. Instead, on Thursday last week it said it was extending talks with the government by another 30 days.
“We have made progress and have had constructive discussions with our stakeholders,” Chris Griffith, the head of Amplats, said. “However, the volume of information and data has necessitated the proposed extension.”
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